Santorum Sweeps

Former Senator Rick Santorum has swept three state caucuses yesterday. One was non-binding (delegates will be chosen in a separate process later in the year) but they do give Santorum a sudden moment in the sun, and once again the Republican front-runner looks weak in his own party. Although there may be some exaggeration there–low-funded candidates tend to do better in smallish caucus states when they have a good ground game, which Santorum has already proven to excel at. That said, caucuses are less common and there are fewer and fewer of them coming up, and Santorum is going to need a lot of money to compete in big upcoming primary (not caucus) events.

Many are calling this a serious blow to the Gingrich campaign as well, although the Gingrich campaign did not really try to compete in these three caucuses, focusing their efforts on Ohio and the southern states on Super Tuesday in March. Counter to earlier statements, the Gingrich campaign now says it plans to de-emphasize its plans to do well in Michigan, which is probably an opportunity for Santorum (and which makes my earlier statements that Michigan might be a place where Gingrich upsets Romney now look less likely).

I maintain that the most important states coming up this month are Michigan and Arizona. Maine will hold a caucus before then and we can expect Romney to do well there, and Santorum’s less likely to do so well with those New England voters. The big contest is going to be Arizona and Michigan on the 28th. Santorum, Gingrich and Romney will all be hoping those states provide them with momentum going in to Super Tuesday, but it appears that Gingrich is backing off on Michigan.

It’s a little early to speculate at this point, but it is interesting to contemplate the possibility of a brokered convention for Republicans this summer. That would be interesting for a lot of reasons, because there’s no predicting what comes out of such an event, and no such event has happened to either political party in more than half a century (the last one for Democrats was 1952; the last one for Republicans was 1948). The neat thing about a brokered convention is that it’s even possible for someone who did not even compete to win the nomination. It’s pretty unlikely, but, at the moment we appear to have three viable Republican candidates, and a fourth (Ron Paul) who can’t possibly win but will be a distraction for everybody.

My own guess is that it’s going to end in a showdown between Gingrich and Romney, but who knows? Michigan and Arizona are the states to watch most closely next, because of Santorum does well in either or both, we’ll have a three-man race going into Super Tuesday.

  • Elizabeth Reid

    It’s pretty interesting. I think the three currently-viable Republican candidates are a lot more distinct than Clinton and Obama were.

  • http://gamepursuits.net/ipb/index.php?act=idx Sandi

    No delegates are bound to any candidates in any of these state primaries. In other words, the party selects the candidate in these states: not the voters, rendering them all but meaningless.

    Of course even in states where delegates are bound, the party gives a leg up to their choice. The RNC (like with Robert Dole in 1996) has decided that it is Romney’s turn.

  • http://www.deanesmay.com Dean Esmay

    Sandi: not quite. The Missouri primary was a beauty contest–the actual delegates will be selected in a caucus later this year–but the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses were the real deal. Santorum appears to have picked up at least 52 delegates and is now in second place to Romney on delegates.

    In Romney (and Gingrich’s) defense, it would have been foolish to put a lot of resources into winning Missouri as the results don’t count for much, but this DID give Santorum an opportunity. The strong wins in Colorado and Minnesota are much more significant, but even the Missouri win makes Santorum suddenly look a lot more credible.

  • http://gamepursuits.net/ipb/index.php?act=idx Sandi

    The strong wins in Colorado and Minnesota are much more significant, but even the Missouri win makes Santorum suddenly look a lot more credible.

    That is certainly true as it can affect future states yet to vote. But there are no bound delegates from the outcomes. I think the voters in those caucasus would like there vote to count for more than the possibility to sway future votes.

  • jaymaster

    Just an FYI, the WSJ has a pretty slick delegate tracker.

    I like the timeline at the bottom, with circles that show the relative number of votes up for grabs on a particular day.

    http://projects.wsj.com/campaign2012/delegates

  • ArnoldHarris

    The only long-term winner of the three small Republican caucuses won by Santorum was Romney. Because Santorum has weakend Gingrich still further, and because of his sudden upsweep, Santorum will stay in the race. And so too will Gingrich and Paul.

    But the only way the hardright end of the GOP can pull down Romney is by settling on a single candidate. But the anti-Romney Republican vote is still split among three other candidates.

    I think Romney is the only one of the four who can beat Obama in November. And I think the GOP leadership thinks the same thing.

    Arnold Harris
    Mount Horeb WI

  • http://www.deanesmay.com Dean Esmay

    Samdi: You must know something I don’t. The sources I’m seeing mostly say Santorum won delegates on Tuesday. Are you saying they’re not bound delegates?

    Jay: That is damned useful.

    Arnold: You may have the right of it. If Santorum and Gingrich both stay in long enough, Romney is likely to win. The most likely upset would seem to be the case where it is only a two-man race, with Paul as the outsider; Ron Paul’s voters won’t go to any other candidate for the most part, so it would be between Romney and whoever else was against him. If Santorum were to drop, or Gingrich were to drop, we would likely have another outcome, but otherwise, the more I think on it the more I think you’re right: all this helps Romney most in the end, because Gingrich’s loss was his gain.

  • http://gamepursuits.net/ipb/index.php?act=idx Sandi

    Dean,

    It was my misapprehension. I was under the impression that Colorado delegates were unpledged like Minnesota.

    Pledged Unpledged by state.

  • ArnoldHarris

    On the other hand (there’s always another hand), Obama might well win this race no matter whose neck around which the Republicans will hang the 2012 golden chain. I don’t think that in the present political climate American presidential elections can be won by extremists of either right or left — or even by candidates who work overtime to sound as though they were extremists in order to court support of the wingers who seem to control the nomination processes on both ends of the spectrum.

    Because of that, I still think Romney is the best bet for the Republicans, partly because most Americans seem to think he really isn’t a conservative, and that despite that consideration, the GOP establishment wants someone — maybe even anyone — whom they think can beat an incumbent US president in the November election.

    Just after writing this, I got onto the WSJ candidate tracker, as was suggested in the comments. That clearly shows Obama rising and all the Republicans far behind. Maybe the Republicans ought to spend the money and political capital getting control of the US Senate while keeping a comfortable level of control of the House of Representatives. That way, if the presidential election doesn’t work out, they can lock Obama in political half-nelson and keep him there for his next and last four years.

    What a weird and crummy way to put into office the supreme magistrate of the United States of America.

    Arnold Harris
    Mount Horeb WI